So how is the lockdown treating you? I have a simple, three-point formula that anybody can use to make sure they not only survive the lockdown but positively enjoy it: don’t be poor, don’t be a migrant worker, and don’t be a member of a minority community. If you can manage this, everything will be fine. At least until you lose your job. As and when you lose your job, don’t panic — apply to the IT cell, and you’ll get a job that pays infinitely better than MGNREGA.
As for me, I’ve never worked as hard my whole life as I have during this lockdown. I’d never imagined that work-from-home would be so much more hectic than work-from-work. Not only have I been putting in 18-19 hours a day, I’ve also been forced to learn new skills and new facts about everyday life — all thanks to Modiji.
Apart from reading, writing, and forwarding propaganda on WhatsApp, now I also know how to comb a toddler’s hair when the toddler is in continuous and irregular motion, the strategic-tactical line on when to use Scotch-Brite and when to deploy the steel mesh, and to never EVER turn away, even for one second, when milk is on the stove — it will always, ALWAYS stab you in the back.
In our home, three individuals — all women, of course — do the heavy-lifting when it comes to domestic work: cook, cleaner, nanny. In their lockdown-induced absence, the wife’s MHA advisory — in complete disregard of the patriarchal settings that come factory-fitted with every entitled Indian male — has divided the housework and care work equally between herself and myself. Out of consideration for me, she has assigned to herself the tougher 50% — all the managerial stuff that is high value and therefore full of tension. These include planning the day’s schedule, issuing precise instructions, monitoring me for timely compliance and quality control, etc. I get the 50% that is less stressful because it is merely physical labour, and rather easy to do so long as you know your Lizol from your Colin from your Harpic.
So the lockdown for me has been a non-stop, confused blur of jobs: jhaadu-pocha, bartan-cooking, reading-writing, pot-banging-potty-cleaning, hand-washing-candle-lighting, milk-feeding-copy-editing, tear-wiping-fairytale-telling, arguing-mask-wearing, handwashing-and-praying.
The easiest — because you’ve been doing it all your life — is your work-work. The household chores — mopping, cleaning, etc — I don’t mind so much because they leave me mentally free to contemplate the planet’s post-human future. The toughest is shepherding Kattabomman from morning to midnight. I dread his daily official meetings. Since April 1, the first day of his school life, I’ve been waking up earlier than I ever have to set up his zoom calls with his nursery teacher. I undertake extensive online research to prep for his ‘learning activity’, and still manage to bungle it every time.
Last Friday’s ‘activity’, for instance, was a typical disaster, with potentially calamitous side effects on marital concord. On an A4 sheet of paper, I’d drawn an outline of an apple, as I was supposed to. Kattabomman somehow turned it into a pink heart with green whiskers. The pink heart also sported thick yellow hair in the style of Cher. For some reason, it also had purple eyes, a sad purple mouth, and a limp, purple tail.
“What the hell is this?” the wife asked, from over our (mine and Kattabomman’s) shoulders.
“Eh…I was just asking myself the same question,” I said.
“Where is the apple cut-out I gave you?”
“You were wrong about the apple cut-out,” I said. “You--”
“God, I don’t have time for this,” she said, rolling her eyes like Cersei Lannister.
“Just chill,” I said. “It’s just a stupid activity for three-year-olds.”
“You had one job,” she said. “To paste the apple cut-out on the bloody page.”
“You were supposed to give me an apple outline, not an apple cut-out,” I said.
“Is there a difference between an outline and a cut-out?”
“There is. If you check the Oxford English Dictionary—”
“Forget it. The app says cut-out.”
“The noodle app?”
“It’s moodle, not noodle,” she said.
“The app is wrong about the apple activity.”
“A-for-apple,” said Kattabomman.
“Ok I’m done!” she said, throwing her hands up in a dramatic but hackneyed gesture of mock surrender. “From tomorrow, you and your son manage on your own. I’m out of it!”
“Let me remind you,” I began, “That we agreed to split all suffering 50-50.” But she’d already stomped out.
I stared at Kattabomman. He stared at me. We both stared at the botched monstrosity that was meant to be a ‘learning activity’ for the letter A. It required him to colour inside the outline of an apple while chanting the slogan, ‘A-for-Apple’. He was still at it, painstakingly applying the final touches to what seemed like an apple displaying severe symptoms of COVID-19.
“ Dei, ennada idhu ?” I asked him, exhausted and exasperated.
“ Po !” he said, bringing his tiny fist down on the sickly apple. “ Po, corona, po !”
G. Sampath is Social Affairs Editor, The Hindu